Admittedly, anticipation for Friday’s home Pelicans opener diminished with news that Zion Williamson, this year’s No. 1 draft pick and the most-hyped rookie in a generation, wouldn’t be taking the floor at the Smoothie King Center.
But a little perspective is in order. The rebuilding of New Orleans’ oft-beleaguered NBA franchise was always destined to be a marathon, not a sprint.
Williamson may already be a global celebrity, but he’s barely 19, and the team expects him to be back following surgery for a torn meniscus between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That’s a disappointment — to him, to the swarms of fans who bought tickets and to the network programmers who built their television schedules around showcasing Williamson's thunderous dunks — but it could be worse. Three years ago another top draft pick, LSU’s Ben Simmons, missed his entire first season with the Philadelphia 76ers due to a broken foot.
Meanwhile, new executive vice president David Griffin has assembled a compelling team around Williamson and stalwart guard Jrue Holiday, including the players that the Lakers gave up in the Anthony Davis trade, who definitely have their pride on the line. Even without their star, this crew still pushed the defending champion Toronto Raptors into overtime Tuesday night before losing.
Friday’s game and the first part of the season offer a chance for fans to get to know a largely new roster and for the newcomers to show their stuff — even as everyone involved counts down the days until the Williamson era finally begins.